I walk behind The Goat. His well-defined calf muscles flex with each step on this relatively steep trail to Stevens Lakes. I carry a light backpack with my camera, a bottle of water, and snack. He can walk miles up a vertical face without stopping, as sure footed as a mountain goat, hence the name. The Kid is somewhere ahead of us, zipping up the hill with teenage energy.
Some people like the challenge of the climb, but I find it anathema to enjoying a good hike. You could say that the pain and toil of trudging up a series of switchbacks that lead to a breathtaking vista is worth the pain. Perhaps it is, but it is hard to remember that when you have to catch your breath every 10 steps.
Some people like The Goat accept such a challenge repeatedly, hungry for the sight of a crystal clear lake or a path where few have trod.
Located near the small town of Mullan in North Idaho, the trail to Stevens Lakes is about two miles in and over 1,500 feet up.
About a half mile up from the official trailhead, along an old road, there is a wide spot where one can see the remnants of a mining operation. Rusted rails emerge from a dark hole in the rock and run into the mud. There are many such fragments of North Idaho’s mining past in these mountains.
This trail is rated as moderate, but it’s a workout for a casual hiker like me. By the time we reach our destination, I am nauseous from the exertion and a bit dehydrated. I am thinking, “This is fun to do, once.”
When we reach the crest of the last hill, the forest opens to a small puddle of blue. Gray mountains with white caps are reflected in the clear water. Bear grass and granite rock formations line the shore. The trail extends around half the lake to Upper Stevens, which will often be frozen into June.
Lower and Upper Stevens are among a series of alpine lakes at Lookout Pass near the Idaho-Montana border. Each tends to be a small oasis amidst mountain peaks. Trails wind through forests of fir, alder, pine, and larch. Paintbrush, lupine, and thimble berries provide dots of color.
The sun lights up the water of Lower Stevens like diamonds as we rest on a log near the shore and eat our much-deserved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We listen to the gentle lap of waves and birdsong and nod at fellow hikers who cross our path.
When we are done exploring each little cove and marveling over the clarity of the water, we prepare to leave. Going down is always a bit sad.